Sunday, March 29, 2009

I don't want to say HOUSE stole our POINT OF VIEW episode but...


...tonight's edition of HOUSE is seen through the point of view of a patient. Huh??? David Isaacs and I wrote that in 1978 for MASH. It's kind of a famous episode. I just watched a preview of the HOUSE episode and it looks like the exact same show. Or maybe it’s just an “homage”. You can see the preview here.

I constantly get readers who want to know about POINT OF VIEW so I figured this might be a good time to share the story again.

The problem with constructing “our” version was finding a story to go along with the convention. A soldier is injured, treated and saved by those lovable wacky medicos at the 4077th. But what’s his injury? Where’s the suspense? And more importantly, how does he connect with our central characters?

We heard of a 1947 movie that used this first-person device called LADY IN THE LAKE. It was a Raymond Chandler mystery with Robert Montgomery as detective Philip Marlowe. Or, more accurately, Robert Montgomery’s voice. So we screened the movie. Holy shit! What we found was that when someone talked to Marlowe it was fine, but when Marlowe spoke the other actors had nothing to do but stare uncomfortably into the camera and try to react (this was not Jayne Meadow’s best work). It was sooooo dicey. Not to mention static, boring, and…well, downright creepy.

It seemed to us the key to making this device work was not having the soldier talk. And that sparked our story. What if the patient is hit in the throat? He can’t speak. He must undergo a series of tricky operations (the suspense) until finally he is able to utter only two words –

“Thank…you”.

In the HOUSE version the patient can talk but no one hears him. I haven’t seen the complete episode but even from the preview it seems disconcerting to hear this voice out of nowhere… and that voice is supposed to be you.

Getting back to our story, it now laid itself out pretty easily. We created a B story where Potter forgets his anniversary and the patient informs Hawkeye which leads to the resolution. That way the soldier is directly involved in the story. One of the show’s highlights for me was how masterful Harry Morgan played the scene in which he confided in the young soldier. Not a dry seat in the house!

We wanted to really utilize the visual, give the viewer a different perspective whenever possible. What did it look like actually being in the chopper, gazing down at the camp, being on a stretcher during the insanity of triage, being wheeled into OR?

So much credit for the success of the episode goes to director, Charles Dubin. And remember, he had only three days to film this, not three weeks…or months. And this was 1978, before steady cams. I think D. W. Griffith used this camera to shoot BIRTH OF A NATION. It couldn’t have been heavier or more unwieldy. Judging from the HOUSE preview the camerawork is more fluid but the effect is no more effective.

The MASH cast was marvelous, really rising to the occasion. It’s hard enough to relate to fellow actors, but to play highly emotional scenes looking directly into a camera has to be nearly impossible. Additionally, scenes all had to play out in one take. We couldn’t cut back and forth between characters and angles and takes. To this day I marvel at their skill.

Trivia note: We gave the patient the name Bobby Rich. Bobby is one of my dearest friends, currently hosting a morning radio show in Tucson.

When the show was completed we watched the finished product in a screening room. I was horrified. There was Radar’s giant head filling this huge screen, addressing all of us tiny ants in the theater. AAAAAAGH!!! As I sat in the dark, contemplating my next career, I wondered how I could reconcile the fact that I personally had destroyed MASH. How’s THAT going to look on my resume?

The show aired on a Monday night during November sweeps. I almost didn’t watch it. When it began I cringed. A few moments into it Radar appeared. And a strange thing happened. The show suddenly worked.

Seeing Radar’s head on a TV screen, the comparable size of most human beings (Only Barry Bonds has a head the size of Radar’s on the silver screen.) the audience was able to buy the conceit. I can’t tell you how relieved I was. By the act break I canceled my 11 PM flight to Antarctica.

I look back at that show today with great pride. We were allowed to take risks. Encouraged to take risks. And even if the show had been the “GLEN OR GLENDA of television” that it appeared to be that dark day in the screening room, I would still be proud to be a part of it. To the cast and crew and everyone involved in POINT OF VIEW, all I can say is –

“Thank you”.

And now I can take our script, change Hawkeye to House and I have a spec drama to show around.

51 comments:

Monty Ashley said...

"Point of View" is one of my two favorite half-hours of television ever (tied with WKRP's "Turkey Day"). So good.

dbblg said...

Huh. I thought the 'House' ep. was an homage to the (hilarious) 'Almost Perfect' POV episode...

Toni Anttila said...

From only reading your description, the House episode sounds more like paying homage to the 2007 movie "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly".

Geoff said...

ER did this too, with a woman who suffered a stroke. We heard all her thoughts, as she thought she was speaking, and wondering why the docs weren't responding... then it cut to a standard shot and the audience learns that the woman is unable to speak as a result of the stroke.

TCinLA said...

"Arrrggghhh! They stole my best stuff!!"

No they didn't, they "made it their own," (as in William Goldman's famous piece of advice: "When you're starting out, steal from the best, then make it your own.")

Or maybe, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"????

Actually, they're dickwads, but I thought being able to check off "I am an actual dickwad" was now a requirement to work on the famous shrinking network shows.

They're talentless jerks and shameless thieves. This is news in Hollywierd? At least they had the good taste to steal something worthwhile.

bjdwsm said...

It'll be interesting to see how well House pulls this off, but "Point of View" is a high standard to live up to. I have to admit though every time I watch House I always end up looking at Robert Sean Leonard's lazy eye in every scene he's in...same with one of the female doctors from St. Elsewhere.

I remember discovering a few years back that Dubin directed a lot of the Mathnet segments on Square One TV. It was also around the same time I was really getting into M*A*S*H again so I thought that was cool.

Anonymous said...

tonight was House? I thought it was on a week day.. tuesday maybe?

is it against Kings?

jbryant said...

The first thing I thought of when I saw the House promo for this episode was a 1955 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (directed by Hitch himself) with Joseph Cotten as a man paralyzed in a car accident, unable to let anyone know he's conscious. Everything old is new again.

Chad said...

"Not a dry seat in the house!"

Did you mean to say "dry eye in the house" or did Harry Morgan's performance inspire a more disturbing audience response?

charlotte said...

You wrote "Point of View," Ken?

Okay. I am officially becoming way too intimidated to post here. Wow. That the likes of us get to have access, thanks to the internet, to writers like you, I'm... speechless.

Thank you.

drbear said...

Of course, some of the old-old timers would say you stole the whole thing from the shot of the gunman shooting directly into the camera in "The Great Train Robbery."

Nothing is original.

Rinaldo said...

I don't think anybody owns the "I am a camera" device; it's been used many times over the years. I hope you were joking about it being "stolen" here.

That said, I consider "Point of View" one of the sterling TV episodes of all time (House's "Three Stories" would be another, by the way, and it's not a long list altogether.) "POV" is definitely my favorite M*A*S*H episode; it always leaves me strangely moved at the end -- I think it's the thought of how fleetingly we sometimes touch the lives of others, which you captured so beautifully.

(Chad, "not a dry seat in the house" is a pretty common jokey substitution for "dry eye." Google it and you'll see hundreds of instances; I don't know if there's some movie or whatever that could be credited as originating it.)

benson said...

Bobby Rich, I believe, was responsible for one of the coolest legal id's I've ever heard...

"K-FM, B-FM, San Diego's FM"


wv: eldegic..the spanish word for degic

Anonymous said...

We heard of a 1947 movie that used this first-person device called LADY IN THE LAKE. It was a Raymond Chandler mystery with Robert Montgomery as detective Philip Marlowe. Or, more accurately, Robert Montgomery’s voice.

Robert Montgomery was also the director of Lady in the Lake.

okiesister said...

That episode is a personal favorite of mine.

Grunt said...

While I adore "Point of View" and have loved it from the first time I saw it I must admit I did not think of it when I saw the "House" preview. I thought to "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" which is almost identical in its conceit and, to a lesser extent, the ER with Cynthia Nixon.

blogward said...

Could they not do the whole episode with an endoscope?

RFHarris said...

HOUSE is a boring show anyways. I can go to the mall and watch guys acting like egotistical arses.

I do watch it just because the diseases make me laugh. I know, thats sad, huh? But they do.

You know tho, I suppose imitation is the best form of flattery...or theft...

Grant said...

I liked the tag line for Lady in the Lake:

Starring Robert Montgomery... AND YOU!

charlotte said...

A question to add to the Friday pile:

Are "stunt" or otherwise out-of-the-ordinary episodes (like "Point of View") the most sought-after writing assignments by the writing staff on a TV series? Because of the creative challenge and the potential for the episode to really standout if it turns out well? Or do the regular writers on a series tend to shy away from these more unusual stories for the same reasons: because of the greater writing challenge and the greater risk that for all their extra work the episode might end up standing out all right, as a laughable disaster.

With greater risk comes greater reward, and all that. But do regular writers on a series tend to line up and beg to write these kinds of episodes? Or run screaming from them?

Andy Ihnatko said...

I loved the novelty of "POV." What sort of problems were created by some of those sequences?

I mean, did you all discover that the layout of the 4077 compound "made sense" even when you found yourself filming the actual route a casualty takes from the chopper pad? Did you have to build out sections of the OR and hospital that were never designed to be shot from that kind of angle?

It sounds like one of those interesting creative events where the thought "Hey! We'll shoot everything from a patient's perspective" takes just five seconds to conceive, but then brings up huge problems...!

Michael Green said...

I thought it was interesting that the episode you and David Isaacs wrote became a favorite, but another very unusual episode, the "Dreams" series of war-related nightmares, caused a lot of displeasure. Not every innovation goes over that well, I guess, and that's too bad, because both shows were very well done.

Jayne said...

I actually prefer "Dreams" over "Point of View". When I first saw "Point of View" I was a kid (in my teens) and didn't like it. As I got older, I grew into it. Probably not in my Top 10 MASH episodes but still, one I tend to enjoy.

Bobby said...

Perhaps 31 years is the Statute of Limitations for ripping you off? In any case, i never get tired of having you mkention my name. Also--I still have the teleplay/script that you autographed for me at the time. If things get lean I'll be putting that on eBay.

Bobby "not actually ever a private" Rich

Anonymous said...

you might also look at "Johnny Got His Gun"...a soldier is alone is his completely disabled body...no sight, sound, etc., but his mind is intact. Morse code becomes his savior when a nurse realizes he moves his head to morse code. Also to note: clips were featured in the Metallica video to "one".

Bradford said...

Thank You. That is a wonderful episode for a wonderful show.

BD Johnson said...

I felt that the episode of House that you are referring to harkened to "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" including the visual style and conceits of the film.

Pamela Jaye said...

darnit! I finally remembered to come here - then realized that if I can't read Alan's review before I watch the ep, I certainly can't read yours!
Sigh.

That's okay. There are always other posts.

If you have a list on the side of links to "special" posts, I hope you will include your "review"of Enchanted (oh and maybe if Sorkin wtote about.. was it baseball?). I'm always looking to that one.
In fact, now that I've thought of it, I'm going to look for it again and link to it on my facebook page (can you tell I loved the review? Movie was really good too. Thanks for the pointer)

Pam - Almost Perfect fan (hey, I saw Kilner get killed on Dollhouse recently)

Mary Stella said...

MovieZen.com

What is movie zen -- you can watch, or not?

Moviezen would have to be egoless. Like that's going to happen in Hollywood.

John said...

Ken, I have a question about another episode.... the one where they run over Charles' french horn with a jeep. At the very end Charles has the local guy make a replacement, an instrument with about 6 horns and no mouthpiece. Whatever happened to that prop? Did anyone keep it? Can I find it on e-bay?

D. McEwan said...

My friend Christy Kanen used to say: "Imitation is the scariest form of flattery."

WV: menlite. Low-calorie guys. Eat all you want; never gain weight.

Karen from Mentor said...

Ken,
I love that episode. I'll echo Charlotte's "we're not worthy."
Enjoyed Bobby giving you a shout out. :)
Who else can you make appear?
Karen

wv: scada what pigeons do in Jersey when you ride your bike near them

Anonymous said...

Alfred Hitchcock calls bullshit on this.

Pamela Jaye said...

tonight was House? I thought it was on a week day.. tuesday maybe?

It's been moved to Monday at 8, opposite Chuck, How I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory (and that's not counting whatever is on ABC)
In any case, I can't blame anyone for not being able to find it.

I think there was more than one ER ep shot from that "point of view" - just not for as long as the Cynthia Nixon ep, which probably didn't do it for even as long as MASH did. I know I've seen actor/doctors staring caringly into cameras more than once (or three times)

And yes, I saw the MASH ep - but it was A Very Long Time Ago, and I was probably a teenager. (so my memories are kinda vague) (okay, I was 19)

Rob said...

Thanks for the digression on when House is on. I forgot to tape it last night. Thankfully when I turned on the TV to watch How I met Your Mother, it was ON Fox, so I was able to hit record and catch the 30 minutes I missed.

That said, I have realized the best house episodes are the ones where they get out of the friggin routine, which is beyond stale. Last night was simply the formula with more camera tricks.

I'm still trying to figure out why House got rid of the interesting people from that batch of interns and kept the least interesting ones.

WV: Sambarr -- The failed attempt of Nestle's chocolate to create a candy bar for Cheers' Sam Malone.

Jack Ruttan said...

Enjoyed the episode (way back when), and your post about it. Very enlightening. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

That was a terrific episode.

I think many TV watchers' first exposure to a patient POV was the famous "Twilight Zone" episode.

While we're on this topic, I've always wondered if you were inspired by something that happened a few years before your great "Cheers" episode where Sam pitches Piels.

A few months after the Yankees' 1978 comeback against the Red Sox, Luis Tiant signed with New York as a free agent.

He did an ad for the short-lived, barely FDA-approved Yankee Franks where he exclaimed "It's great to be with a weiner!"

SpoonieLuv said...

OK Howard Stern, I invented POV scripts.....hoo hoo Robin (useless hole)

Anonymous said...

http://www.fark.com/cgi/comments.pl?IDLink=4300877

Maureen said...

I'm not a 'House' watcher, but I am a long-time M*A*S*H fanatic, currently watching the series in order for the first time!

'Point of View' is definitely one of those memorable episodes. It's always so wonderful to hear the behind the scenes info.

That's one thing I regret about the show being on so long ago. None of the DVDs have the "extras" we are so used to now. In almost every episode, I think of questions that I know will never be answered.

Anonymous said...

But didn't you just steal it from "Johnny Got his Gun"?

James Tiller said...

MASH is my all-time favorite show. Through the years of re-runs, I have been able to see every single episode many times and still laugh.

When I saw the commercial for HOUSE the other day, I immediately thought of the POV episode of MASH.

And, who is this Bobby Rich and did he really coin the K-FM, B-FM slogan? Thinking of that makes me realize how old I am!

Anonymous said...

You were not the first to use this plot device. It's been 30 years, and though I loved M*A*S*H.. and thank you for it, It's not "biting your style" After 30 years people may use the same plot device as you. You do not own it.

In fact the 1971 film Johnny Got His Gun beat you to the chase putting this POV onto film and the book from 1938 beat you to the idea way before that.

House isn't even in my top 5 but M*A*S*H is.

len dreary said...

I well remember the MASH POV. It was fantastic tv and I loved it however it did remind me that I'd seen something similar in the old EC comics. I'm afraid i can't remember much more than that. Writer, artist and storyline all forgotten now.
This doesn't detract for a moment from the greatness of the MASH episode.

Buttermilk Sky said...

"Kings" is a fairly obvious ripoff of the Old Testament, so you're in good company.

Michael Jones said...

Bogart's Dark Passage is also a good example of POV up until the bandages are removed to reveal Bogey's real face.

Come On said...

Why didn't HOUSE steal your idea for a show about doctors?

Howard Stern is the perfect example.

I love both you guys -- but when people say "simpsons did it" type of statements, I go crazy!

Everything can be from something else even if the author doesn't know the material exists...

maynotlast said...

No, Ken, NO! Don't be one those old-timey TV writers who bitch and moan about how all the Young Pups are "ripping us off." Every good idea comes around again and again. Like the zany, authority-bashing doctors of M*A*S*H really just being a rip-off of the Three Stooges from 30 year before THAT. It all evens out in the end. By the way, I got the idea to LIVE in a house LONG before there was a TV show called "House." (And your blog is a rip-off of Ben Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanack" blogs of mid-1700's.)

Tapeleg said...

It's Saturday, April 4th at 1:40 PM Eastern. They are showing the POV episode on TV land.

Leo Edwards said...

This doesn't entirely have to do with this post, but it does have to do with "House" Does anyone else feel like "House" and "Becker" are sort of closely related? I personally think that "Becker" would have done better if it was on now, considering how well "House" is doing because they both basically center around a doctor who is pissed off at the world. Of course one is a comedy and one is a drama, but i still believe that "Becker" did influence, in some way, the creation of "House".

Anonymous said...

You wrote for M*A*S*H?

I think I'm one of the few people who feel M*A*S*H has not aged well.

All In The Family aged fine, Mary Tyler Moore Show great, even Maude stands up but M*A*S*H which I adored on first run grates on me and I need to turn the channel.